I’ve written quite a bit about the “God hole” in modern Western life, and how that place—intended for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—is being filled with everything but. We desperately search for meaning wherever we can find it—politics (for the progressives and some conservatives), witchcraft, power crystals, celebrity, money, sex, etc.
Part of this state of affairs stems from the persistent onslaught of postmodern, relativistic ideas that permeate our culture, so much so that they effectively infiltrate even our churches. The ethos of “if it feels good, do it” sinisterly insinuates itself into Christian teachings in a form of Christology that reduces Jesus to a spiritual boyfriend who is unfailingly supportive of our bad life choices.
But Jesus is not a soy boy, and Christianity is not a pick-and-choose faith that is copacetic with sin.
Mainline Protestant churches have been failing for decades for precisely this reason: rather than offering up strong defenses of Christianity and steadfastly holding to Christ’s teachings, they’ve jettisoned the sterner stuff for vague encomia about social justice and love.
Not surprisingly, there has been a spate of prominent cool Christians leaving the faith. The latest is Marty Sampson of Australian Christian supergroup Hillsong United. Hillsong is known for vapid, crowd-pleasing praise songs full of whole notes and chorus effects.
National Review hand-wringer David French anticipated my reaction: “shallow songs, shallow theology.” French goes further, suggesting that Western Christians in developed countries are censoring themselves in the face of cultural and corporate censorship, because they’ve never experienced true persecution.
There is some truth to this proposition: Americans in particular have lived in a culture that, until historically recently, supported Christianity, and we enjoy First Amendment protections to religious liberty. But that tacit support—and being awash in a Christian culture—made us soft, and we were blindsided when progressives assaulted our faith and religious liberty itself.
We’ve also been hobbled by our belief in fair play and plurality—in a free society, let people believe what they like! That’s all well and good—and commendable—but the other side does not share that commitment. In the face of such a foe, we’ve lost considerable ground in a short period of time.
“Feel good” Christianity is a big part of the problem. I don’t know Marty Sampson, but wishy-washy, lukewarm, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend Christians don’t do much good for the Church in the long-run. Yes, they may inspire quickie conversions that grow quickly in shallow soil, but do they plant deep roots?
French ends his post on Sampson with his analysis of the problem: “The church has its faults, yes, but the blame will lie less with a church that failed to instruct than with a person who didn’t, ultimately, have the courage to believe.” I think French is half right here. Yes, the individual bears ultimate responsibility for his relationship with God. But “therapeutic messages from the pulpit,” as French puts it, don’t help the individual grow in or understand his faith on a deeper level.
If the Church simply says, “You’re okay as you are,” it’s not encouraging growth. That message is fine for converts—come to Christ as you are, and He will accept you—but it won’t allow for deeper growth. As Dennis Prager once said, your greatest struggle in life is not with others, but with yourself.
One thing I’ve learned from studying the Gospels is that Christianity is hard. Christ promises persecution and struggle for His followers, and the standards are impossible without Christ. We’ve reduced it to a smooth jazz station at the spa, and that’s why people are leaving the Church—and losing their infant faith.